Friday, December 2, 2016

Leopard at the Door

Title:  Leopard at the Door
Author:  Jennifer McVeigh
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0399158251 / 978-0399158254

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The steward has said we will dock at 9:00 o'clock, but I am too excited to sleep, and I walk to deck in the dark, log before the sun comes up, watching for the first sight of land."

Favorite Quote:  "Men have legitimate voices, even if they are not sanctioned by your press ... Authority is not a substitute for the truth."

I requested this book because of the beautiful cover and because it is set in Kenya, a location about which I have read very little. I was intrigued by a story that delves into the history of Kenya during British colonial times.

That is indeed the setting of this book. However, this is not really a book about Kenya and its history brought to life through the story of one young woman. It is a book about a young woman who survives traumatic experiences that happen to be set in Kenya. This book is Rachel's story in Kenya during the 1950s, not Kenya's story through Rachel's eyes. The glimpses of political history are interesting, but they are a distant second to the main story of the book which is Rachel.

Rachel has a traumatic childhood. As a child, in one day, she witnesses a man killing another and loses her mother in an accident. Her widowed father cannot cope and sends her off to England to live with relatives. All this happens prior to the start of the book. Fast forward a few years, Rachel returns to Kenya. She thinks she is returning home, but in her case, the cliche holds true. You really cannot go home again.

She returns, but the home she left behind is completely different. Her father is basically in the background, with seemingly no voice of his own. He has not remarried, but is living with someone. Think Cinderella's evil stepmother, and you might get close to Sara. Sara has a son of somewhat indeterminate age. He is old enough for the army but comes across as a young boy to be sheltered; his role in the book is unclear. Her mother, of course, is gone. A former teacher, who happens to be of Kenyan origin, suddenly seems to appear to her in a completely different light. A British officer is a stereotypical bad guy.

In other words, the political history of this book is interesting, but the characters around which the story is based are difficult to engage with. I do not care for any of them, not even Rachel. For a bulk of the book, it is unclear to me how old Rachel really is. She is old enough to go off on her own and partake in some "adult" activities; yet, at the same time, she often comes across as a little girl looking to be saved and protected.

Her story would have more power if the character showed reflection or introspection about the broader history of the book. However, this book stays pretty narrowly focused on events that happen to Rachel. Some are related to the politics, but most occur because of the bad guys wanting to keep their agenda going. The further I get into the book, the more narrowly the book focuses on what happens to Rachel.

Unfortunately, Rachel's story just does not connect with me so I wish the book had explored the broader history or the grand vistas and beauty of Kenya more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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